Find­ing po­etry in the game

Get caught look­ing at ‘Caught Look­ing’, an an­thol­ogy of po­ems about base­ball and life by lo­cal au­thor Sean Car­roll

The Citizens' Voice - - PUBLIC SQUARE - BY JACK SMILES COR­RE­SPON­DENT

R ight off the bat, Sean Car­roll hits a home run when he rhymes “wipe the shine right off the moon” with “crea­ture from the black la­goon” in the lead off poem in his base­ball-themed po­etry chap­book “Caught Look­ing.”

Car­roll di­vides the book’s 20 po­ems into the sea­sons of base­ball and life — Spring, Sum­mer and Fall. In the lead off poem with the “moon” – “la­goon” rhyme, Car­roll writes of a young boy re­luc­tant to wake up be­cause he is play­ing base­ball in his dreams. In the poem, “Wif­fle­ball on Jack­son Street,” he writes about a young boy watch­ing older boys play­ing wif­fle­ball who laments, “You stay long enough/ Stick your jelly-stained fin­gers/Though the cold chain link/Give it a shake? Maybe, just maybe they’ll let you in.”

Youth and lost youth are re­cur­ring themes. The fi­nal poem ends the Fall sea­son as a grown up Car­roll comes to grips with his grow­ing chil­dren and his own ad­vanc­ing age in “The Back­yard Boys.”

In be­tween in the sum­mer he has fun with a trib­ute to Robert Frost in “Birches Re­vis­ited” and with a Ge­orge Plimp­ton ob­ser­va­tion.

“Ge­orge Plimp­ton wrote this cool mag­a­zine piece years ago,” Car­roll said, “about what he called The Smaller The­ory: The smaller the ball, the bet­ter the qual­ity of the writ­ing about that sport. So I wrote a sort of mock epic poem about a funny de­bate be­tween a golf ball and a base­ball.”

Though all the po­ems are base­ball-themed, they also take on larger themes. Some are light while oth­ers ex­plore the darker side of life. As John Zedo­lik — pub­lished poet and ad­junct pro­fes­sor at Chatham Univer­sity in Pitts­burgh — writes in a cover blurb, “If the grown-up game is your thing take in the ru­mi­na­tion on fam­ily prob­lems in “I al­most Burned My Whole Life Down.”

Grow­ing up in Moun­tain Top, Car­roll played Lit­tle League ball, but chose track over base­ball at Crest­wood High School, win­ning a District 2 medal in the 110 hur­dles. He got his base­ball fix as the start­ing cen­ter­fielder for the Moun­tain Top Amer­i­can Le­gion team, beat­ing out the high school’s starter for the job.

‘There’s an old adage about writ­ing: dig be­low the sur­face. Good writ­ing has to be truth­ful whether the truth is painful or not.’ Sean Car­roll Au­thor

Car­roll al­ways liked to write. In ele­men­tary school, he wrote de­tec­tive sto­ries. In high school, he wrote po­ems and en­tered po­etry and essay con­tests. “If asked in 9th 10th grade, I would have said I want to be a writer.”

But life in­ter­vened. He grad­u­ated from Crest­wood in 1984 and went to Penn State as an English ma­jor and made it through two cuts as a walk-on to the base­ball team. But, he said, “He ma­jored in beer and darts.”

He left Penn State and got a job as an aide at the Gen­eral Hos­pi­tal psy­chi­atric unit where he met a nurse named Camille. They mar­ried in 1991 and moved to West Pittston. Car­roll went back to school, fin­ish­ing his un­der­grad­u­ate de­gree at Blooms­burg and mas­ter’s at Scran­ton Univer­sity. To­day, he is a psy­chi­atric re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion coun­selor and an ad­junct English in­struc­tor in the Mis­eri­cor­dia Univer­sity Ex­press­way Pro­gram — and a writer.

He and Camille had three chil­dren, sons Matt and Kevin and a daugh­ter Kelly. Be­ing a fa­ther to three and work­ing full time, he wrote spar­ingly and didn’t com­plete any­thing. As he put it, “I was the king of start­ing a 100 writ­ing projects and not fin­ish­ing them.”

As sons grew up, base­ball con­sumed his time. “The kids were so in­volved in base­ball. They were in mul­ti­ple leagues. I was coach­ing way too many teams. Be­tween work­ing and teach­ing at Mis­eri­cor­dia and coach­ing Lit­tle League and at Wy­oming Area, I didn’t have time to sleep. I was never home. I got away from writ­ing.”

But as he ap­proached his 50th birth­day last Novem­ber — and with his older son on his own, the younger one at Hof­s­tra where he is the sports editor of the school pa­per and his daugh­ter Kelly a se­nior at Wy­oming Area — he de­cided if he was to get back into writ­ing it was now or never.

A child­hood mem­ory helped rekin­dle Car­roll’s pas­sion for writ­ing. In the mem­ory, he is five or six years old and he “went snoop­ing around my fa­ther’s desk and came across reams of yel­low le­gal sheets.”

The sheets were cov­ered with num­bers, no­ta­tions and names. Turns out Car­roll had stum­bled on the box scores of a dice base­ball game his fa­ther, a ra­bid Yan­kee fan, had played.

The mem­ory in­spired him to write a short story “Un­cle Marty’s Stupid Game.” He sub­mit­ted it to Spit­ball, a base­ball lit­er­ary mag­a­zine and it was ac­cepted and pub­lished. Car­roll de­scribes it as “a story of a young kid who ends up bond­ing with a great un­cle over dice base­ball game pit­ting the rook­ies of 1964 against all-time greats.”

When Spit­ball ac­cepted his poem “Base­lines” he felt he was on to some­thing. He wrote more po­ems with a chap­book in mind. It wasn’t easy. He spent a year writ­ing and re­vis­ing the 20 po­ems.

“I had writ­ten an ear­lier ver­sion of the first poem in the book ‘In Dreams’ and it was just ok.” Car­roll said. “Then I had an epiphany. There’s an old adage about writ­ing: dig be­low the sur­face. Good writ­ing has to be truth­ful whether the truth is painful or not.

“I had to ask my­self, am I re­ally work­ing hard at this or am I treat­ing it as a hobby. I had to ad­mit to my­self I was treat­ing it as a hobby. If I came away say­ing that’s a ‘nice’ poem then I haven’t done what I should be do­ing.”

Once he was sat­is­fied, he sent the chap­book to some small presses and swung and missed a few times. “I got nice re­jec­tion let­ters.” Then he sent it to WordTech Edi­tions and got a hit. “Yeah, I think they kind of saw that while it is base­ball-themed, it’s more than that.”

His mother, with whom he ad­mits he had a “dif­fi­cult re­la­tion­ship,” died be­fore he got the man­u­script fi­nal­ized. “My mother passed away at the be­gin­ning of July and so did not get to see the fin­ished prod­uct. Be­cause I was aim­ing for fi­delity to the truth, there are some in­stances in the book that may not have cast my mother in the most flat­ter­ing light. But in a sense, I do con­sider the work as a whole very much a tes­ta­ment to her im­mense pos­i­tive in­flu­ence on me as well. She was a huge fan of the writ­ten word and art and drama in gen­eral. She gave that all to me.”

“Back­yard boys,” the clos­ing poem, is one of his fa­vorites. “It’s kind of bit­ter­sweet. It stirs me and it was hard to write.”

In it, he sits on his back porch from where he used to watch his sons and their friends play ball. It ends this way: “I should go in­side but I think I’ll sit here an­other hour For I know the night is wait­ing for me Long and slow and deep The night is wait­ing for me It will draw me close and whis­per Your back­yard boys are gone.”

WAR­REN RUDA / THE CIT­I­ZENS’ VOICE

Au­thor Sean Car­roll, with his new book, ‘Caught Look­ing,’ in his West Pittston res­i­dence.

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